Health & Science

Microsoft's Cloud Will Now Help Power a Project Co-Created by Google Sister Company Verily

Grant Hindsley | Bloomberg | Getty Images
  • Terra is a cloud service for biomedical research co-created by Verily, the Google sister company focused on health tech, and the Broad Institute, a collaboration between Harvard and MIT.
  • The Terra software runs on Google's public cloud, and now it will also operate on Microsoft's cloud.
  • RBC analysts recently pointed to health care as a growth opportunity for Microsoft.

Microsoft announced Monday it will contribute cloud-based data storage and computing power to Terra, a software project enabling industry and academic researchers to collaborate on large-scale analysis of health information.

Verily, the life sciences company operating under Google parent company Alphabet, co-developed Terra and has been using it for the past three years. The other partner in Terra is the Broad Institute, a nonprofit health research institution that Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology established in 2004.

The service has run on Google's cloud infrastructure. Now, the groups will also deploy Terra on Microsoft's Azure cloud.

The move in an example of Google Cloud's struggles to gain traction against its larger cloud competitors, as well as Microsoft's success enlisting a broad range of Azure partners across industries. In 2019, the public cloud-services market grew 37% from the prior year, with Microsoft holding about 18% and Amazon, the biggest player, controlling 45%, according to estimates from technology industry research company Gartner. Google had 5% of the market. More recent figures are not available.

"I think there are several aspects of Azure that are very compelling," said Anthony Philippakis, Broad Institute's chief data officer. "When we look at how trusted they are across the life-sciences ecosystem, it's quite amazing. Almost every health-care system runs on Microsoft products."

Bringing Terra to Azure could lead to significant adoption of the software, he said. Microsoft has more than 168,000 partners in health care and life sciences, said Dr/ Greg Moore, a Microsoft corporate vice president who previously worked on health care in Google's cloud division. As of 2019, 95% of Microsoft's commercial revenue came from partners, according to the company.

Microsoft's decision to contribute to Terra alongside the Broad Institute and Verily comes less than a year after it introduced a Cloud for Health Care bundle including Azure and the Teams communication app. Health care represents a sector where Microsoft can increase its revenue and profit, RBC analysts wrote in a November report.

The appearance of the coronavirus "has made us more aware than ever" how critical it is for researchers from various organizations to collaborate, rather than relying on narrower data sets and computing resources that are kept on site, said Clare Bernard, a senior director at the Broad Institute.

Philippakis would not specify whether the software could become available on Amazon Web Services.

"Any decisions about incorporating future clouds will be made jointly between Broad, Verily and Microsoft," he said.

WATCH: Alphabet's life sciences arm Verily teams up with big pharma to modernize clinical trials

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